Novembers Doom

Bled White

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For most fans, 2011's Aphotic was a watermark exercise. It shifted the band's signature meld of doom and death metal off center, incorporating some prog and even gothic elements. Though it was widely acclaimed, some longtime listeners felt it moved too far from the more extreme elements in Novembers Doom's accumulated musical persona. Bled White, produced by the band with Chris Wisco and mixed by Dan Swanö, proves that this band, while possessing a distinct sound, is never musically predictable. Here, death metal, melancholic doom, and prog elements attain a near perfect balance. On the opening title cut, Garry Naples' double kick drum thud is met by bassist Mike Feldman's downtuned thrum and relatively simple yet razor-sharp riffs by Larry Roberts and Vito Marchese. The real surprise, though, is in Paul Kuhr's vocals. His pronounced death growls are countered by melodic, clean -- but monotone -- ones. Alternating one with the other in contrasting segments, they are supplanted by a bridge (with him literally roaring the lyrics) and a brief, elegant guitar interlude amid the frenetic kit work. "Heartfelt" finds the vocalist in a richer, even lower range, as his vocals dwell between clean, screaming, and growling in the various parts of this careening jam. Guest Greg Laswell adds a fine, resonant harmony vocal. If heartbreak was the theme of the previous number, hate fuels this one. The sentiment expressed in the beautiful "Just Breathe" counters with emotional equilibrium, as grief, anger, and pain make way for growth and letting go. Musically, it has something of an atmospheric Katatonia or Opeth quality with its tightrope of chiming, sparse guitars, piano, low toms and kick drums, and cleanly delivered vocals. Its bridge threatens to interrupt its spacious presentation, but doesn't. A guitar solo (there are a few scattered throughout) and instrumental architecture lead to a crescendo before introducing yet another segment. Though one of the briefest tracks here, "The Brave Pawn," is absent of all doom effects, it reveals the brutally charged menace this quintet is capable of, and is a set high point. Though "Unrest" contains Novembers Doom's classic doom sonics, it's totally unhinged in its tempo, attack, and dynamic. "Clear" sends the band spiraling into an expansive, deeply moving elegy, underscored by twin guitar breaks, double-time drums, and layered harmonies. Throughout, Novembers Doom showcase just how comfortable they are not only with shifting musical gears, but through a wide palette of textures and colors. It must also be noted that though he's always been an exceptional lyricist, Kuhr has reached an entirely new level here. His singing is wide open emotionally -- no matter what he's expressing. Bled White sums up all the places the band has been before, combines them, and points the way forward. Their collaborative songwriting and arranging, combined with rich production and an exacting mix, make this one of their finest records.

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